The Lord of the Rings Tarot Deck and Card Game - deck and book set

© 1997 Tolkien Enterprises
ISBN 1-57281-055-6
Deck and Book Review by Lady Lorelei, CPTR

When did you first discover Middle Earth? What were you doing and thinking at the time? I was in junior high and thinking I’d much rather be there than here. They understood what love really means, what honor and sacrifice really are, as well as evil and cruelty. The high ideals in that work helped shape the person I am today. And how many of you reread the books before the movie came out in December of 2001? Who would imagine a fantasy movie could get 13 Oscar nominations! Hmmm, 13 . . . we need a 14th member for our party, I know of a hobbit that lives at Bag End . . .

So I was excited to see that Terry Donaldson and Peter Pracownik created a deck. That is, until I saw it. Now I wish they’d just used Tolkien’s original art, or the Hildebrandt pictures, or that someone else had been given this sacred duty. There’s nothing bad about it or terribly wrong with it. The card choices just don’t work for me. Pracownik’s art doesn’t appeal to me. (Bear with me here. This is my first attempt at a negative review.) Let’s start with the card backs. The Lord of the Rings logo with two golden rings is doubled against a grey stone wall. Two gold rings? Which two rings are they? Three for the Elvin kings, one ring to rule them all . . . All I can think of when I see this is the traditional quilt pattern called the double wedding ring. I guess the card backs are all right for a card game.

Who is on the Fool card? Whose Hero’s journey does the epic saga of the Lord of the Rings encompass? Who passes through realizations of his own power and folly, his ability to rule and decide and face dangers, even death? Who comes through it all a wiser stronger person fully integrated with his inner demons and devas? Ahem, Frodo, right? Maybe even Samwise, or any of the original fellowship. But who do they put on the Fool card? Gollum. OK, I can sort of see that in a twisted way. He does save the day at the end - by biting Frodo’s finger off! Not by a maturely considered sagacious decision. The reason this choice really doesn’t work for me is that Gollum’s story is much longer than the Lord of the Rings. His story began long long before The Hobbit. Email me if you want to discuss it. [email protected]

Let’s look at a card that does work for me. Okay, the Tower card is a picture of a burning castle. The card number is in Roman numerals at the top. The title is down the left side and there is some text at the bottom. There are seven red pentagons surrounding the castle and a shield up in the corner, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The text reads, “Orthanc under attack from the Ents. That which has been built on bad foundations will be reduced to rubble.” So the Tower concept of upheaval, or as I like to call it - the good ole kick in the astral - is intact. Destruction clears the way for tremendous growth.

Remember the little shield I mentioned above? It goes with the red background to the Tower card and is part of the card game aspect of this deck. The game rules take up half the LWB. There is no mention of this game in Donaldson’s accompanying tarot book. This shield stands for Dark Forces and “represents Sauron and the forces of evil in Middle Earth.” Okay, I can kind of see how that could work with the Tower. And this shield would then be on all Swords cards, right? Wrong! The little symbols and their associated background colors have nothing to do with the tarot aspect of the deck, they are purely for the game. This shield is on the Ten of Coins - a card of permanence, continuity in family and livelihood right? Wrong! This is Smaug’s card. A red dragon guards his gold (perfect 4 of Coins symbolism). But wait, isn’t that from The Hobbit? As is the 6 of Wands depicting the Battle of the Five Armies (okay there’s victory and good news there). I thought this was the Lord of the Rings Deck.

Wormtongue is the Devil. C’mon, this is Sauron’s card!

Enough ranting, let’s look at the basics of the deck. The suits are Wands, Cups, Swords, and Coins. The courts are Page, Knight, Queen and King. The LWB gives basic card meanings without referring to the cards or the text on them. The pictures are a symbol for the divinatory meaning. In many cases they aren’t really related at all. There are 4 spreads in the back of the book and a bare bones cheat sheet of the Celtic cross in the LWB. Included in the set is a layout sheet for the Gandalf spread which is pretty cool and based on Tolkien’s elvish rune for G. The book goes into depth for each major arcana card with a description of the artwork, the tarot meaning, the astrological association and ‘the card speaks’ section. There is about a half page of text for each minor. Donaldson’s reasoning is much clearer after reading his text. However, it still doesn’t work for me.

One more rant before we’re done. The Ring card is X the Wheel of Fortune. I suppose this could be argued, but I find it offensive. The Wheel of Fortune card is about what is absolutely wonderful in tarot - the power to make your own luck, to choose your own destiny. The Ring is about enslaving all humanity, all denizens of Middle Earth. It is about Sauron’s evil corruption guised in a harmless looking bauble.

Last rant, I promise. Another problem inherent in this work is the lack of females. Eowyn is assigned the Queen of Swords which makes sense because she did actually wield a sword in battle. But wouldn’t that be more the role of a Knight? But the picture of her in a midnight blue evening gown slit down to her waist and up to her hip is hardly battle field attire. And with a bust like that, she could never have passed for a man, even under armor! I think the Entwives would have been a better choice for this card. They lived separately from their husbands, like widows. Eowyn is also the High Priestess. Huh? I really don’t get that. Galadriel is the one who shows the Fellowship what lies beyond the veil in her Mirror, but that idea was used in the Ace of Cups. The Star is the light that shines through Galadriel’s ring. But hey, wasn’t Arwen the evenstar of her people? Donaldson has many tarot credits so I can only assume he didn’t relate well to Tolkien’s books.

Some cards definitely fit in well with the tarot archetypes and some are just plain flubbed. Trying to do it all - tarot, card game, cover the Hobbit as well as the Lord of the Rings - is beyond the scope of 78 cards. I think this project would have been better conceived as a separate card game, a Hobbit deck, and a Lord of the Rings deck. If you are a Lord of the Rings collector, this will look good on your shelf. Just don’t take it down and try to read with it.

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© Lady Lorelei 2000